The ongoing fighting in Ukraine is making Bosnians and other Balkan nations feel the heat, as the two world wars originated in Eastern Europe, where there has always been a hegemonic struggle between Russia and the Western bloc. .
The First World War began after the murder of the heir to the Hungarian throne of Austria in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was assassinated by a Bosnian Serb assassin, who was part of a pan-Slavic secret organization with alleged ties with Russia, the old defender of Pan-Slavism.
Two decades later, World War II began after Nazi Germany occupied Poland in 1939. The Soviets seized the opportunity invade then eastern Poland, which is now part of western Ukraine.
The two trigger points of the world’s two greatest wars were fatally located in Eastern Europe. Fast forward to 2022, the region is again hit by deadly fighting between Ukraine and Russia, with bigger geopolitical ambitions at stake. Russia’s goal is to counter NATO’s influence in Eastern Europe and drive the US-led alliance away from its doorstep, Ukraine.
At the beginning of all these conflicts there was a Russian connection, a shocking reality for many people living in Eastern Europe. The Bosnian War was sparked after the disintegration of communist Yugoslavia following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. During the war, a predominantly Orthodox Christian state, led by Serbs and supported by Russia, launched an attack on Bosnian Muslims and predominantly Catholic Croats. .
The sentiment continues to be deeply rooted in Serbian society. After the Russian attack on Ukraine, there was pro-Moscow demonstrations in Serbia, alarming Bosnians and other Balkan nations about whether the ongoing fighting could spread to other parts of Eastern Europe, leading to another world war.
In order to see what the Balkans think of the ongoing conflict, World TRT spoke with Shafik Dzaferovic, a member of the Tripartite Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina and a prominent Bosnian politician.
TRT WORLD: Could the war in Ukraine spread to the Balkans?
SHAFIK DZAFEROVIC: The Balkans are not as close to Russia as Ukraine, so it is much harder to expect such a scenario. There is a NATO space between Russia and us. However, although Russia does not touch the Western Balkans, there is a certain danger.
Just six days after meeting in Moscow [with Putin] in December 2021, Milorad Dodik [a secessionist Bosnian Serb leader and another member of the Bosnian presidency] launched an attack on the constitutional order of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Assembly of Republika Srpska adopted conclusions violating the Dayton Accords and 27 years of their implementation.
Dodik wants to take us back to 1995, when everyone in Bosnia and Herzegovina looked at each other through their telescopes. It is dangerous and it must be stopped. NATO and the EU are primarily responsible for stopping this dangerous development.
How did Bosnians approach the war? What are the main differences between Bosniaks, Bosnian Serbs and Croats regarding their approach to war?
SOUTH DAKOTA: The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina sympathize with the Ukrainian people. Bosnian and Croatian political leaders have condemned the aggression against Ukraine. Only Serbian leader Milorad Dodik tried to block Bosnia and Herzegovina’s condemnation of Russian aggression at the UN, but he failed.
He calls the people of Kiev (who are fighting for their bare lives) “armed gangs”. At the same time, he repeatedly expresses his understanding of Russia’s actions. He thus showed that he had no compassion for the victims and that he did not belong to Europe in the political sense. Even if there were some illusions, the Euro-Atlantic community must now know who they are dealing with when it comes to Dodik.
There have been large pro-Russian Serb demonstrations in recent days. Why do the Serbs want to support the Russian attack?
SOUTH DAKOTA: Pro-Russian demonstrations took place in Serbia and within the Republika Srpska (RS) entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, mainly because public opinion in Serbia and parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina is strongly influenced by the Russia. The authorities there are pro-Russian, pro-Russian militant organizations are viewed favorably, and the government of Serbia and the RS entity do not condemn the aggression against Ukraine as everyone else does.
At the same time, Russian actions against Ukraine are rekindling dreams of a Greater Serbia. Many in Serbia see Russia as a force that could help them break up Bosnia and Herzegovina and annex part of its territory to Serbia. That is why we have heard messages from NATO that Bosnia and Herzegovina is in danger. And that is why we need the support of NATO; in any case, we will fight for Bosnia and Herzegovina until the end.
World War I and World War II began in Eastern Europe, where Ukraine is located. Could World War III start in Ukraine?
SOUTH DAKOTA: The war in Ukraine, as a conflict of such importance and with such actors, is a danger for all of Europe and even for the world. The international community is upset for good reason. Historical experience shows that conflicts in the Balkans and beyond, in Eastern Europe, have the potential to spread rapidly. Historical experience shows that the appeasement in Munich in 1938 led to an escalation of Nazi aggression.
The passivity of the international community in the early 1990s led to the extension of the war in the countries of the former Yugoslavia. It was only with the intervention of NATO that the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo were stopped. If NATO took a passive stance on the conflict in Ukraine, the war could spread. And it is only if NATO is firm and determined that no one will have an interest in extending the conflict, not even in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the Western Balkans.
Why is the Ukrainian conflict so dangerous in terms of triggering a global fight?
SOUTH DAKOTA: The Ukraine question is whether a sovereign state can decide its future, or whether only the great powers have the privilege of deciding it. The implications of this are universal. If overt aggression were legitimized, if the world accepted it, then instead of the UN Charter, the law of brute force would apply, and that is a sure path to more and more conflict.
Why did the fighting in Ukraine take place, from your point of view?
SOUTH DAKOTA: Ukraine is the victim of open military aggression. What we see in Ukraine is a cynical violation of international law. Russian forces destroy Ukrainian cities. The number of civilians killed is increasing.
Since the start of the Russian attack on the territorial integrity of Ukraine in 2014, Bosnia and Herzegovina has taken a clear position, which we still adhere to. Bosnia and Herzegovina supported a UN General Assembly resolution and joined in a European Union statement condemning the aggression.
Political disputes with a sovereign state cannot be resolved by sending an army to its territory. Bosnia and Herzegovina is particularly sensitive to this because we were victims of aggression in the 1990s. It all ended with the genocide in Srebrenica. We have no right to remain silent when this happens.
How do you see the future of Bosnia vis-à-vis NATO and the EU?
SOUTH DAKOTA: I see Bosnia and Herzegovina in the future as a member of the European Union and NATO.
Many members of the European Union and NATO have had problems like Bosnia and Herzegovina. These countries had disputes over borders, they had strong inter-ethnic tensions and similar problems, but many of these issues were eased by the entry of these countries into the EU and NATO system. .
I am sure that Bosnia and Herzegovina would solve many of its problems if it became a member of the EU and NATO. This is why there is resistance to Euro-Atlantic integration among those who refuse to accept Bosnia and Herzegovina.
As for the EU’s desire for enlargement itself, I am sure that the Ukrainian crisis will raise awareness within the European Union that the admission of new members must be considered a geopolitical and security issue, and not administrative.
What kind of role can Turkey play in the current crisis in Bosnia?
SOUTH DAKOTA: Turkey has a stabilizing role in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Turkey supports our path towards the EU and NATO. As a member of the Peace Implementation Council, Türkiye supported 27 years of implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords.
President Erdogan strongly supports Bosnia and Herzegovina, supports all our peoples and expects everyone to respect the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This has its effects and, combined with the realization of Türkiye’s proven determination to support his friends, softens those who are negative towards Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Source: World TRT